The purpose of this article is to evaluate the factors influencing the behavior of children and how to modify them so that they grow as model citizens practicing Islam in their community, become a source of joy and comfort to their parents, and maintain family harmony.
The behavior of growing children is influenced by many factors that include their parents and other close relatives, teachers, peers at school, community and the media. Lack of discipline and civilized behavior at school is a major problem in the U.S., the fallout of which is also seen at home! With broken families and the absence of a father at home, this becomes a major problem for single mothers raising a teenager.
Muslim children, although distinct in their value system, still are exposed to and affected by what they see and learn. In Islamic teachings, great emphasis has been placed on moral conduct and behavior.
The Quran says, "Lo, the noblest of you, in the sight of God, is (the one) best in conduct. Lo, God is knower, Aware" (49:13).
"By the soul, and the proportion and order given to it, and its enlightenment as to its wrong, and its right. Truly he succeeds that purifies it (the soul), and he fails that corrupts it" (91:7-10).
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), has said, "I have been sent to perfect your conduct" (Bukhari and Muslim). "A fathers' teaching his child good manners is better than giving a bushel of grain (in charity)" (Bukhari).
Children are very susceptible to any and every influence. It has been said, "They are like molten cement. Anything that falls on them makes a lasting impression." Their minds are like virgin soil, ready to accept any seed. As they grow, their organs of reception start working and accept new ideas and influences. It is up to us to screen the experiential factors that influence a child's development so that they can learn to accept the right ideas and behaviors and reject the wrong influences.
The parents (and close relatives
living with them like uncles and grandparents) have only 25% influence
in a 6-16 year old child. 50% is by peers at school or in the community.
25% is from the teachers and other sources of education outside home i.e.
media, mainly TV (and magazines for older youths). The influence of parents
is high during early age (0-8 years, up to 80%), but as the child discovers
new friends and ideas, he or she grows independent from the influence of
The American scene
The American scene of the behavior of children and adults is changing. While it is difficult to qualify the behavior at home, the same at school has been published. What is happening in our homes is reflective of what's happening outside homes and vice versa According to a study conducted by Fullerton California Police Department of Education,l the leading school discipline problem in 1940 was talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the hallways, getting out of place in line, wearing improper clothing and not putting paper in the wastebasket, etc. In 1980 the major problems were drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, arson, and bombing. The Indianapolis public schools conducted a behavior discipline survey.2 It reported the following activities in the hall: Grabbing 69%, pushing 84%, hitting 82%, kicking 48%, slapping 57%, pinching 66%, fighting 78% and tripping 62%. There is also a high percentage of physical violence by teacher against student (22%) and by student against teacher (42%). We leave our children at school in such an environment for 30-40 hours per week and then expect them to develop into angels.
While the parents can do little to affect other influences, some suggestions can be made in this regard.
Keep children in the company of good Muslim children after school and during weekends to dilute the unavoidable influence of undesirable elements at school.
Choose a school in a good location (neighborhood) irrespective of it being private or public. Get to know the teachers personally and interact with them. Only the neglected children create wrong impression at school and expose themselves to various abuses. Supervise their homework.
Watch TV with your children, and
select good educational and entertainment programs. Comment on the negative
aspects of the program. Cut down the TV hour to less than 1 1/2 hours on
weekdays and 2 1/2 hours on weekends. Do not buy rock music tapes (out
of love for your child) nor allow him/her to listen to any hard rock. Encourage
outdoor activity in preference to indoor (e.g. TV/music). Encourage them
to read newspapers, good magazines (National Geographic) and Islamic periodicals.
Role of parents in influencing the behaviour of their children
As I have said many times, "Children will become what we want them to be if we are what we want them to be." Children cannot be expected to practice Islam by sending them to Sunday school if we are not doing that ourselves in our day to day life. If we want them to get up early in the morning to perform the prescribed prayer, we have to do it ourselves and ask them to join us. If we want them to read the Quran, we should read with them and so on.
Growing children may not take an order, but will do things out of love and respect for their parents. So love and respect on a mutual basis is our best weapon against all the negative influences on them. Parental love should be unconditional and on biological grounds rather than on their achievements at school or in sports. Love should not be confused with unlimited permissiveness or with closed eyes towards a child's faults. Criticizing certain faults of the child should not diminish the love by the parents.
Children are not bom knowing everything right or wrong in social norms. They need clear guidelines about good and bad behavior, Islamic and un-Islamic way of life. The greatest effect is of the parent's attitude and example rather than the words in a book. If children see their parents not practicing what they themselves are told to practice they become rebellious and non-believers (in the value system). A typical example is of alcoholism in the American scene. Children are told it is bad for you until you are 18, while it is not bad for the parents. Therefore children seeing this as hypocrisy, rebel and get alcohol, not from a liquor store, but from their own home or from a friend at parties. Therefore, parents should set the same standards for themselves as they set for their children, and share with them information of all kinds whether related to the outside world or inside the family. It is not the knowledge which hurts, but the lack of it or misuse of it which causes problems.
Parents should help children make
appropriate decisions and be responsible for their decisions. Younger children
can only make decisions about the present (i.e. what clothes to wear that
day), but grown-ups can make decisions that may affect their future, under
parental guidance (i.e. selection of career, school and hobbies). Children
left to grow on their own, will regret a lack of direction they had in
their childhood. Children should be taught how to be responsible by being
given the chance to share household work, keep their desk and room clean
and how to handle their "own" money. Let them spend all their money and
suffer from the lack of it. A sense of deprivation once in awhile is good
for them as long as the reason for deprivation is explained well.
How parents can communicate with their children
Neither party can influence the other
unless they communicate. This is a serious problem in American families.
One father told me that at best all his teenage daughter would say to him
would be "Hi" one or two times a day. This can be substituted by a "peace
be upon you," (as-salam alaykum) in a Muslim family in which parents
and teenagers are not getting along well. One should avoid getting into
this stage of strained communication.
Influencing the behaviour through daily household chores
The purpose of giving them some chores,
is to keep them busy as well as teach them some responsibility. Initially
it may be boring, but it will eventually become routine. The assignment
should be according to age (and not the sex of the child) and should include
setting the table to begin with, then washing dishes, laundry, taking out
the garbage or just helping in the garden. However, children should not
be forced into doing things, otherwise they will rebel. By the same token,
they should not be penalized for mistakes. The best payment for a job is
a smile, hug, thank you or praising the child to others, rather than money.
While it may be all right to give an allowance, it should not be tied to
the job. Otherwise the child will want money for everything. An eleven
year old told his mom, "You need to know only three things about kids.
Don't hit them too much, don't yell at them too much, and don't do too
much for them."
How about infants and pre-schoolers?
While studies mainly refer to children
ages 6-16 years, the small ones should not be neglected. In fact, in the
first year of life, it is the behavior of the parent (especially the mother)
which is so crucial and has nearly 90 percent influence. Then, as the child
grows, identification with the parent of the same sex may make the influence
of that parent more important. The boys watch their father more closely
doing mechanical work and girls observe moms carefully doing household
work. Sometimes it may be reversed. It is at this time that parents can
inject love and respect into children by their example of mutual love and
respect for each other and for the children. It is also at this age that
doing things together including playing, watching TV, reading, etc. will
help establish the foundations (trust, self-confidence, ability, etc.)
of open communication. In terms of practice of religion, it comes from
observing their parents and doing the practices together. If nice manners
are programmed into them before they are introduced to the general population,
it is doubtful they would get the infection of misbehavior.
rights for Muslim children
rights for Muslim parents
Finally, I end this article with a verse from the Quran.
"Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, do not say to them any word of contempt, nor repulse them, but address them in terms of honor, and out of kindness lower to them your wings of submission, and say, 'My Lord, have mercy on them as they cared for me in my childhood"'